Dobriy den…(Good day in RU & UA) to you, lovely people. Today, I want to invite you to live with me in the sound and soul of one of my all time favorite artists, Dmitri Hvorostovsky, as well as one of my all time favorite composers, Pyotr the Great, Mr. Tchaikovsky! Next week, my fellow colleagues and I will perform a few masterpieces by Rachmaninoff, but for now you can whet your appetite with Tchaikovsky. And, I do not apologize that it’s not quite a small plate kind of appetizer. It is Russian after all. Russians and Ukrainians alike, like to have “salo” (bacon and not the American kind. It’s almost pure fat, preferably served with raw garlic) for a snack.
Last year, I debuted with NYFOS singing a mostly Tchaikovsky program with the incredible baritone, Alexey Lavrov, who is the next ‘Dmitri Hvorostovsky,’ I think. First of all, when I sing Tchaikovsky’s music, it particularly feels like butter on my vocal cords. Of course Tchaikovsky is going to be one of my favorites for that, but more so because of the unlimited passion and sincerity in his music. I never have to plan or dissect Tchaikovsky’s music too much to understand what he wanted. I enter his vein of music instantly and feel it naturally rather than trying to understand it. Perhaps because we were next door neighbors. And, on top of it all, listening to Dmitri perform anything by Tchaikovsky is like eating a double death by chocolate cake.
As most of you know, we lost Hvorostovsky last year, too soon. It was a great tragedy to the world. He was one in a million who possessed a strong gorgeous pillar of a voice, impeccable artistry, and the most refined natural vocal technique that always served the music. Listening and watching him sing always gives me this thrilling feeling and makes me feel everything he is expressing. Also, every video you watch of him, is an amazing voice lesson. He is an absolute master and complete artist. Every note, every single note is telling a story. In this love song aria, and this recording particularly, “Ja vas lyublu” (“I love you”) from Queen of Spades, Dmitri pours out his heart with such intensity and love. I listen to it over and over and cannot get enough. It’s so special and so sensational. Every note truly shows how much he loves her. He doesn’t let go of any note. Every note, every millisecond of this piece is infused with love, energy and passion. It just takes my breath away. Ah, just heart wrenching. He is so committed and honest. And, one can CLEARLY understand every word with out focusing, too much. Thank you to both Mr. Hvorostovsky and Mr.Tchaikovsky for such a gift.
Again, we are touched by truth because the artist is truthful in the moment to himself, the music, the composer, and to the audience. He doesn’t do anything over the top or cheat us by giving less, he is simply honest. That’s what we desperately desire and here we are totally satisfied.
(I advise you listen to this on good speakers or head phones to experience the full thrill of passion and the sound of his voice.)
At NYFOS we are coming into the home stretch of our 30th anniversary season. Up next on April 24 at Merkin Hall will be our 30th Anniversary Concert with a bevy of marvelous singers. These guys all have burgeoning careers. Soprano Julia Bullock has a solo recital at Carnegie hall next week. Paul Appleby is our leading young American tenor and sings the world over. Mary Testa is a bona fide Broadway star; Theo Hoffman is rocking it at the L.A. Opera; Lauren Worsham is a star in everything she touches and already has an Emmy nomination; and baritone John Brancy just delivered a spectacular recital at Alice Tully Hall a few nights ago. His program, developed with pianist Peter Dugan, was great in every way. The program itself, Armistice, was about the end of WWI in 2018 (one hundred years ago), and about repatriation, coming home, PTSD, death, and trying to recapture life and joy after all the horror. The show told this story in words and music with such committed performances, and such assurance and musical care. Steve Blier and I started NYFOS 31 years ago because the song recital had become predictable, stuffy, and was in deep need of more than just a face lift. The song repertoire is vast, and resists mastery of knowledge. It is also dynamic and alive in classical, pop and folk music. John and Peter’s recital was a valentine and validation for 30 years of working with Steve. This recital was fresh, original, about something important, and resonant to its audience. It had new works I didn’t know, including a premiere, excellent verbal remarks from the stage giving us just the right information to enhance our understanding and enjoyment of what we were about to hear. Wow, I thought. The song recital IS transformed. I like to think we had a little influence in making that happen. Of course the next generation is creating its own musical landscape, and I’m grateful for their energy and passionate dedication.
One of the songs delivered by Brancy and Dugan was Rachmaninoff’s “Spring Waters”. We will repeat that on April 24. Here is Dmitri Hvorostovsky in a live performance. We lost him this past year, and we are the poorer for it. He was an inspiring musician to me always. I’ll never forget seeing him backstage in Moscow as a very young man, long before he was famous. Movie star good looks, charisma oozing out of his pores, that hair, and what I perceived to be an ambitious but kind soul.
My Tchaikovsky concert isn’t till early next year, but I want to get it squared away now before the autumn hits me like a ton of bricks. Having decided to include a little group of songs by Tchaik’s teachers and students, I received some expert guidance from Antonina Chehovska, the soprano soloist for the project. She had wonderful ideas for Rubenstein, Arensky, and Taneyev, and I appreciated her promptness and her enthusiasm. Following up her suggestions, one thing (the online music library IMSLP) led to another (YouTube and Spotify) and I soon came across this beauty by Taneyev: “The Restless Heart Is Beating,” a song that combines elegance with driving passion. I would describe it as a Slavic version Schubert’s “Die junge Nonne,” or perhaps his “An Schwager Kronos” relocated to the Steppes. Taneyev was a superb songwriter, and that makes choosing just one or two a kind of sweet torture. But I can hear baritone Alexey Lavrov tearing my heart out with this piece, and I think I’m going with it.
By the way: I try to make it a practice to buy actual copes of music I want to program after I have rooted around IMSLP. And the best place to do that is at Glendower Jones’ e-emporium, Classical Vocal Reprints. But of course, you knew that.
Here are Dmitri Hvorostovsky and Ivari Ilja flaunting their fabulosity in this song:
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